Chicago Employers: Immediate Updates Needed to EEO Practice in Light of Amendments to City of Chicago Human Rights Ordinance

E. Jason Tremblay, Alexander L. Reich

On April 27, 2022, the Chicago City Council amended the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance (CHRO). The amendments bolster the city’s sexual harassment laws and include enhanced protections for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The city’s press release announcing the changes can be accessed by clicking here.

The CHRO applies to any employer with one or more employees in the city of Chicago. The changes are part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new plan, titled, “Citywide Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence and Human Trafficking.” Click here to view the plan. Some of the changes went into effect on June 4, while others will become effective on July 1.

Effective June 4:

Broader Definitions

As of June 4, 2022, the definition of “sexual harassment” has been revised to include sexual misconduct.

As set forth in the amended ordinance, “sexual harassment” means any (i) unwelcome sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature; (ii) requests for sexual favors or conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for any employment decision affecting the individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; or (iii) sexual misconduct, which means any behavior of a sexual nature which also involves coercion, abuse of authority, or misuse of an individual’s employment position.

The amendments also modified the definition of “sexual orientation” to now mean “a person’s actual or perceived sexual and emotional attraction, or lack thereof, to another person” rather than “the actual or perceived state of heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.”

Extended Notification Period

Beginning on June 4, 2022, whenever the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) -- the city agency that enforces the CHRO -- receives a complaint, it must provide a copy of the complaint to the responding party within 30 days rather than 10 days. This extension is intended to help mitigate retaliation, such as the denial of reasonable accommodation requests under the Illinois Victim’s Economic and Security Act (VESSA).

Increased Statute of Limitations

As of June 4, 2022, victims of all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment or misconduct, will now have 365 days -- an increase of 65 days -- to report violations of the CHRO.

Steeper Monetary Penalties

As of June 4, 2022, penalties for violations of the Ordinance have increased. Each offense carries penalties between $5,000 to $10,000 (previously $100 to $1,000). Furthermore, each additional day that a company is found to be in violation will constitute a separate and distinct offense.

Effective July 1:

Written Policy Requirements

As of July 1, 2022, all employers in Chicago must have a written policy on sexual harassment that includes the following:

  • A statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago
  • The updated definition of sexual harassment 
  • A requirement that employees participate in annual sexual harassment training
  • Examples of sexual harassment
  • Information on how individuals can report sexual harassment including, as appropriate, details on how to make confidential reports, with an internal complaint form, to managers, corporate headquarters, human resources, or other internal reporting mechanisms
  • Information on legal and governmental services available to employees who may be victims of sexual harassment
  • A statement that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago

Employers must provide the written policy in the employee’s primary language within the first calendar week of employment. In addition, employers must display a poster on sexual harassment prohibitions in an area visible to employees. The poster must be displayed in both English and Spanish. A poster will be made available to employers on the City of Chicago’s website by July 1, 2022.

Training Obligations

Effective July 1, 2022, all employers must provide the following annual training:

  • One hour of sexual harassment prevention training for all employees
  • An additional hour of sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors/managers
  • One hour of bystander training for all employees

Employers may use the model sexual harassment prevention training program prepared by the State of Illinois that is required under the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) to fulfill the sexual harassment prevention training for employees. Training modules for the additional hour of training and for bystander training will be made available on the City of Chicago’s website by July 1, 2022.

What Should Employers Do Now?

The amendments generally fall in line with changes made by the state to the IHRA in recent years, but go even further in imposing additional policy and training requirements.

In light of these amendments, all employers in Chicago, no matter their size, should promptly review their anti-discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies, which will almost certainly need revisions to comply with the new city requirements. Likewise, employers must be sure to fulfill the new notice and training obligations. Finally, employers are advised to retain written records to show compliance with the Ordinance in order to avoid potential violations. Notably, because each non-compliant day constitutes a separate offense, penalties can mount quickly.

Our labor and employment attorneys regularly provide guidance on handbooks and policies, and also provide a suite of employee trainings, including trainings that satisfy the CHRO’s new requirements. If you have any questions about the CHRO or your employment policies, please reach out to your regular Saul Ewing LLP attorney. Please note: Summer Associate, Shivani Govani, contributed to the writing of this blog post.

Jason Tremblay
Alexander Reich
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